Separation Anxiety

June 17th, 2021

Throughout the Covid 19 lockdown, many of us have spent much more time at home, which has meant much more time with our furry friends. This has of course has had its perks but what happens when we return to work?

Dogs much like us humans are social animals, as we begin to return to our normal lives this can be unsettling and stressful for our pet dogs and can lead to something called separation anxiety.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a behavioural problem where the dog exhibits behaviours linked to stress typically as soon as the owner leaves. These behaviours can be barking/howling, household destruction or trying to escape.

Why do dogs get it?

Because dogs are social animals, separation anxiety can occur when they are forced to be on their own. This is particularly common when a puppy or rescue dog has never been taught to be on their own, or an existing dog has got used to having their owners around. As many of us have been based at home unable to go about our daily lives, this is currently a very likely scenario.

Cats can also develop separation anxiety but it is much less common as they tend to be much more solitary animals.

Signs of separation anxiety

  • Barking, howling or whimpering
  • Destructive behaviour (scratching, digging and chewing)
  • Soiling in the house
  • Increased heart and respiratory rate
  • Heavily panting
  • Salivating
  • Shaking

How to prevent separation anxiety developing

There are many things we can do to prevent an animal developing separation anxiety before we go back to work. Below are a few, but please note not everything will work for all animals and it may be best to seek the advice of a vet or behaviourist:

  • Make use of a crate or baby gate. (This allows the animal to have some time away from you whilst you are still home) If needed, build this up starting as little as a minute and if the animal becomes distressed stop using this technique.
  • Use noises such as the radio or TV to provide distraction.
  • If your day has become less structured, start to bring some of that structure back. Get up at the same time, eat meals at the same time etc.
  • If you have got into the habit of feeding your animal an extra meal, slowly start to wean them off that.
  • Use activity toys to keep your animal busy and mentally stimulated whilst you are out. However, make sure the animal gets these at different times of the day so this does not become a cue that you are leaving.
  • Even if you don’t need to, begin to leave the house without your animal and work your way up to longer periods of time. (Again only, continue with this if your animal is comfortable.)
  • Leave scented items such as a jumper you have worn with the animal
  • Start to walk your dog at the times you would normally, as you return to work

We hope the above points help both you and your pet as you return to work. If our advice hasn’t eased the separation-related behaviour, talk to a vet and they may refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist. They will help you identify the underlying cause of the problem and develop a treatment plan which works for you and your dog.

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